Tuesday, April 16, 2019

GIRLS ON THE VERGE by Sharon Biggs Waller

GIRLS ON THE VERGE will no doubt be considered a controversial addition to YA literature, but its message is one that should be communicated to girls everywhere. In this reviewer's opinion politics has no place in women's reproductive rights and the right to choose. This may not be an opinion shared by everyone, however, GIRLS ON THE VERGE handles the subject in a sensitive manner that might just change the opinions of some.

When Camille discovers she is pregnant, she knows the last thing she wants is to be a mother at age seventeen. Her plans for the future will eventually include a family, but she is determined that the one mistake she made while on a meaningless date will not ruin her life.

Living in Texas has stacked the deck against girls like Camille. Her trip to the crisis clinic reveals the strict laws of her state. On the surface the staff seems understanding, but when Camille experiences a vaginal probe followed by prenatal advice assuming she will keep the baby, she realizes choice is the last thing she is being offered. The clinic requires parental consent or her appearance before a judge who might dismiss the requirement. 

Camille fears disappointing her parents so she finds help with a planned parenthood representative. They appear before the judge, but her request is denied. Texas is denying Camille's right to an abortion. 

Another alternative is to head to the Mexico border where an abortion drug is available. Accompanied by two friends, Camille uses attendance at a summer theater camp as a cover for the road trip that will hopefully help solve her problem. What follows is an emotionally charged experience in which ideas differ about the choice Camille is making. 

GIRLS ON THE VERGE by Sharon Biggs Waller is well written and researched. Readers will better understand the feeling when personal choice is compromised. No matter one's stand on abortion, Waller brings the right of choice to the table and opens up the possibility of discussion that might promote change.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly

Iris may be deaf, but she is quite a girl. At only twelve years old, she is a genius when it comes to fixing radios. Using vibrations she feels through touch, she is able to repair the old radios she finds at a local junk store. When she finishes, she sells them back to the store's owner. Unfortunately, Iris wishes she could just repair radios all day long instead of going to school and dealing with the frustration of trying to communicate with people who don't understand her.

Things at school begin looking up the day Iris's science teacher shows a video of a whale named Blue 55. The whale is a hybrid species and it's been discovered that he can't communicate with other whales. Scientists in several wildlife sanctuaries listening to the sounds of whales discovered Blue 55's song is at a higher decibel than most other whales. Their tracking systems show that he tries to interact with other whale groups, but he is excluded.

When Iris sees the video, she immediately wants to help Blue 55. She begins researching whale songs and hertz measurements to find out how she can create a song specially designed for Blue 55. With the help of her friend Wendell, the school music teacher, and an app on her phone, Iris is able to create a song. She emails a scientist at the wildlife sanctuary mentioned on the video about the whale. She includes a recording of the song she created suggesting they could play it through underwater speakers for Blue 55 the next time he is in that part of the ocean.

What follows is an adventure that takes Iris and her grandmother to Alaska where she hopes to see the results of her hard work in person. Things may not go exactly as planned and she may be grounded until middle age, but Iris is determined to let the whale know someone hears him.

Author Lynne Kelly uses her experience as a American Sign Language translator to create a tale about a young girl and a lonely whale. Whether Iris is simply helping a whale or perhaps finding a way to make herself heard, readers will love this crazy, action-packed adventure.

Friday, April 5, 2019


Life takes a strange turn the day Carter Jones opens the front door and met the Butler. Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick takes charge of the Jones household. There will no longer be meals in front of the TV. The usual sugary cereal for breakfast is replaced by steel-cut oatmeal with cream. Carter and his three sisters are delivered to school in an eggplant colored Bentley that draws more attention than Carter wants.

The Butler expects good manners, proper English, and regular walks for Nate the family dachshund. All of this is a bit of a surprise for Carter and his sisters, but his mother welcomes the organization and stability. Carter's father is currently deployed in Germany, and the death of his younger brother Currier still has everyone dealing with painful memories.

Basically, Carter sees the Butler as "a pain in the glutes." This feeling intensifies when the Butler organizes a cricket team and insists that Carter and his schoolmates learn how to play this strange but traditional game of England. Sixth grade Carter is shocked when the Butler suggests the eighth graders on the cross country team should be involved as well. Carter knows well that sixth graders don't mix with eighth graders, but he is about to learn the Butler can handle anything.

Author Gary D. Schmidt shows readers that proper behavior and being a gentleman can create the confidence needed to deal with impossible situations. Quirky characters, humor, and a healthy bit of competition combine to entertain as well as inform in PAY ATTENTION, CARTER JONES. I confess I still don't have a working understanding of the game of cricket, but it makes me interested in learning more.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson takes readers into her story as a survivor. In SHOUT she tells about abuse by a trusted friend and the impact it had on the rest of her life.

As the daughter of a minister, she tells of the frequent moves during her childhood. Her father's unpredictable behavior made life uncertain much of the time. Shame and the knowledge that talking to anyone about her abusive experience would not be welcome news, Anderson kept it a secret for years. 

Anderson's experience revealed itself through her work. SPEAK addressed the subject of rape. TWISTED details a difficult father/son relationship. CATALYST revealed two unlikely friends. The backstories for these books are made clear through Anderson's artful, descriptive, and often stark words.

SHOUT is difficult to describe. It simply needs to be experienced. Anderson's courage speaks directly to the survivors of #MeToo. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

HEROINE by Mindy McGinnis

Softball is Mickey Catalan's focus. She's a senior hoping to help her team win the state tournament. College scouts will be coming to watch her talent as catcher and hopefully invite her to play at the D3 level. Her best friend Carolina is the team's star pitcher with scholarship hopes of her own. Unfortunately, before the season begins a nasty car accident threatens to end both girls' dreams of the future.

When Mickey is finally aware that she is in the hospital, she finds herself watching as the surgeon who pinned her hip back together is explaining her injury by snapping the leg off a Barbie doll. She listens as her divorced parents explain they will tag-team her physical therapy and doctor appointments to help with her recovery. As she hears about the intense and lengthy therapy, she realizes her softball dreams may not happen.

With the help of painkillers and a massive amount of determination, Mickey surprises everyone and is ready for the start of the softball season. Her friend Carolina's injured arm has also recover enough for her to start pitching on the day of the first game.

Although both Mickey and Carolina suffered injuries in the accident, the way they handle their recovery is different. Mickey finds the painkillers help her not only manage the pain, but also express herself in a way she never has before. When one pill isn't enough, she pops two. When her prescription runs out and the doctor won't prescribe more, she finds another supply.

Mickey is handling the physical strain of playing softball, but she is depending on the pills to make it work. When her supply dries up, she is introduced to a replacement - heroine. By that time being high is more important than her softball dreams.

Author Mindy McGinnis has expertly created a story of addiction that is sure to hit readers hard, but in doing so, she paves the way for the discussion of a rapidly growing problem in today's society. She shows just how easy it is to become dependent on narcotics, just how easy it is to access drugs, and just how easy it is to deceive family and friends. HEROINE is a must-read for teens and adults!

Sunday, March 17, 2019


Life is not easy. Angie learned that when her sister died in Iraq. She learned it when she became the center of attention after her suicide attempt became part of a school athletic event.

All that is over according to her doesn't-understand-mother. It's time to continue focusing on her dead sister as the town dedicates a statue in her honor. It's time to concentrate on the urn-it's a symbol perched on the fireplace mantel. But, as far as Angie is concerned, all her support systems are gone. Her sister, KC-her true love, Jake-her best friend -- all are gone.

Angie is still grieving. Unfortunately, she is learning that not everyone grieves in the same way. Upon hearing her mother state that she "lost the good one," Angie realizes she will have to make her own way through the sorrow that haunts her every moment. She's ready to do it alone, until an unexpected trio offers their help.

Her old friend Jamboree, a strange girl named Zeke, and the accidentally present Darius invite her to climb aboard a ratty, old RV to embark on an adventure found on a postcard from her sister. The road trip that follows helps Angie recognize that she has value and can accomplish whatever she sets out to do.

In this sequel to FAT ANGIE, author e. E. Charlton-Trujillo proves that with the encouragement of the right people and a no-matter-what attitude can take a person out of her comfort zone and into an accepting, brave new world. Dialogue that rings true, pain that feels real, and quirky places like the shortest street in the country combined to make this reader fall in love with Fat Angie once again.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up
Bri wants to follow in her father's footsteps to become the rapper he never had to chance to be.  Although he was shot just as his career was beginning, everyone already knew and loved him.

Life hasn't been easy for Bri's family. Her mother Jay fell into a life of drugs after her husband died. She left Bri and her brother Trey to live with their grandparents and checked herself into rehab. Now that the kids are back with her, life still isn't good. Jay is forced to quit taking college courses toward a degree in social work when her job is eliminated. She has her hands full trying to keep food on the table and the utilities on.

When Bri wins her first rap battle in The Ring, she sees a way to help out with things at home. Unfortunately, Jay doesn't want Bri involved in the same scene as her late husband so Bri is forced to sneak around and depend on the help of a shady manager to have her music recognized.

Bri's a hit on YouTube and Instagram, but her edgy words bring criticism that threatens to not only halt her dream career, but also endanger her and her family. Her dream may be more than she can handle at the young age of sixteen.

ON THE COME UP is by Angie Thomas, author of the bestselling THE HATE U GIVE. Her story speaks to teens of all backgrounds hoping to hit it big or find their way to an awesome future.

Thursday, February 21, 2019


Ryan Pitts: Afghanistan: A Firefight in the Mountains of Wanat

Book #2 in the new MEDAL OF HONOR series by Michael P. Spradlin focuses on the war in Afghanistan.

Ryan Pitts was born in Massachusetts and raised in New Hampshire. During his senior year in high school, he decided to enlist. It was 2003. Ryan knew he wanted to go to college, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to study so he joined the army.

He trained at the U.S. Army Field Artillery School. His training specialized in close-combat aviation. After completing training as a paratrooper, he was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy. The 173rd was famous for combat in multiple wars.

The battle that earned Pitts his Medal of Honor involved the Battle of Wanat just outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. His unit was to defend Observation Post Topside to protect the Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler. The surprise attack took place at 4:00 am and lasted several hours. Pitts was badly wounded during the attack that killed the rest of his fellow soldiers. Despite severe blood loss, Pitt held back the insurgents with gunfire and grenades until supporting troops could arrive.

While reading Ryan Pitts' story, I learned about other achievements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam, about the difficult conditions of fighting in Afghanistan, about the role of paratroopers and the weapons they use, and also about aircraft used in battle like the Apache attack helicopters and more. Author Michael P. Spradlin's ability to research and share facts in an informative and entertaining way is sure to attract readers as his MEDAL OF HONOR series continues.

WILD BIRD by Wendelin Van Draanen

Wild Bird

As a total fan of Wendelin Van Draanen's books, I had to get my hands on a copy of WILD BIRD. Readers who enjoyed THE RUNNING DREAM will definitely want to read it.

Wren Clemmens is fourteen. She is the perfect example of a rebellious middle child. She never seems to measure up to her older sister Anabella, and she no longer possesses the innocence of her little brother Mo. If she can't measure up to everyone's expectations, why not act however she wants.

Wren meets Meadow in a school restroom. Meadow is into drinking and drugs which fascinates Wren. It doesn't take long for Wren to join in, and soon she is stealing money from her parents, shoplifting, and even delivering drugs for a cool, older guy named Nico. Her new life is filled with thrills and excitement, but that ends up sending Wren on an unexpected journey.

It is barely 4:00 am when several large men enter Wren's bedroom. They man-handle her out to a waiting vehicle and shove her in. Her family watches tearfully, explaining they love her and this is for the best. Wren is taken to the airport where she joins another teen just as confused as she is. Hours later she is given a backpack and supplies and marched to a camp in the desert.

Wren begins eight weeks in a wilderness therapy camp. Sleeping under a tarp, using a latrine pit, building her own fire, and cooking her own meals takes Wren to a mental place where she can contemplate what has become of her life. She is forced to face her anger and fear as she comes to terms with her actions and the pain and suffering she has brought to a family who she realizes does love and care about her.

WILD BIRD is a hard hitting, tough love story of what it sometimes takes to put someone back on the straight and narrow. Consider it a good addition to any middle/high school collection.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

NEW KID by Jerry Craft

New Kid

NEW KID by Jerry Craft is a graphic novel that deftly conveys the feelings of being the new kid in a world quite different than your own.

More than anything, Jordan Banks wants to go to art school. Unfortunately, his parents, especially his mother, have different ideas about what's best for Jordan. He is about to start seventh grade at Riverdale Academy Day School. Completely different from his urban, city school, it promises a great educational opportunity, but a lack of diversity means Jordon will be one of only a few brown kids.

The moment his "guide's" father picks him up in a fancy car, Jordan knows he's out of his element. A kid named Liam has been assigned to take Jordan around on the first day and be there for him should he have any questions. Liam quickly abandons Jordan. Using a map to find his classrooms proves nearly impossible, and no one seems to be interested in getting his name right.

Author Jerry Craft takes readers along as Jordan meets his new classmates and figures out both the written and unwritten rules of the unfamiliar society of Riverdale Academy. Each day when he gets home, his mother is excited to hear about his day, his dad seems oddly uninterested, and his neighborhood friends aren't as welcoming as usual. Will he ever make new friends? Will he survive the year? Will Riverdale ever seem like the best place to be?

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Jack Montgomery: World War II: Gallantry at Anzio

Author Michael P. Spradlin has released a new series titled MEDAL OF HONOR. The first book in the series is JACK MONTGOMERY: WORLD WAR II-GALLANTRY AT ANZIO. Thank you to the author and publisher for a copy and the chance to review it.

First Lieutenant Jack Montgomery was born in Oklahoma in 1917. He joined the National Guard and become part of a unit comprised of most Native American soldiers. After attending college and earning a Bachelor's degree in physical education, he went back to his National Guard unit. He was discharged after the required year of service in 1941.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the involvement of the United States in the European war, Montgomery ended up serving his country on the front lines in Sicily and Italy. His platoon saw action as the Allied troops worked their way up the Italian peninsula.

It was in the attack on Anzio that Montgomery earned his Medal of Honor. He single-handedly took out three machine gun nests, killing German soldiers while taking others captive. The remaining 20 or so soldiers in his platoon had him to thank for their lives. Montgomery was severely injured but went on to recover and accept his medal from President Franklin Roosevelt in January 1945.

The MEDAL OF HONOR series will feature some of the 3,500 soldiers who have received the honor since its creation during the Civil War. Author Michael P. Spradlin tells the story of Jack Montgomery's experiences and heroism on the battlefield and also sprinkles in photographs and colorful details of World War II throughout the text. History buffs are sure to enjoy this new series. It is perfect for middle grade and even high school readers and could be used to supplement history lessons about the time periods. Stay tuned for a review of Book #2 about Ryan Pitts, a soldier in Afghanistan.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

THE LONELY DEAD by April Henry

The Lonely Dead

This reviewer eagerly awaits all new books by April Henry. THE LONELY DEAD did not disappoint.

Adele can't believe she has become the main suspect in the death of her ex-best friend Tori. True, Adele was caught kissing Tori's boy friend during a drunken game of hide and seek, but that was an accident. It was on the way home from the party that Adele came face to face with the dead Tori.

Thanks to an inherited ability from her mother and grandmother, Adele sees the images of the dead  tethered to their remains. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Adele doesn't see the images if she takes her medication, but recently she stopped, claiming to feel more like herself without the drug. The result - Tori appears to Adele tethered to her dead body buried in a shallow grave in the woods.

Tori begs Adele to help find her killer. A call from a nearby payphone sends the police to the woods where Tori's body is recovered and funeral proceedings follow. Adele continues to communicate with Tori's ghost attempting to find out the truth.

Adele's decision to report Tori's death backfires as police repeatedly question her about her presence in the woods after her confrontation with Tori at the party. Not able to explain her visions of the dead, Adele begins to doubt her own innocence and believes it might be easier to simply confess.

THE LONELY DEAD is classic April Henry with page-turning suspense and spot-on details. This may be my favorite yet.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

WHAT YOU HIDE by Natalie D. Richards

What You Hide

Spencer's parents won't lay off. They are constantly bugging him to do better in school and to try harder in hockey. Even his sister is nagging him about writing application letters and applying to colleges. He just isn't sure that whole scene is for him. That's why he decides to be a rebel and climb the library.

It would have been cool, too, if he hadn't accidentally put his knee through that $4000 dollar window on his way to the roof. Now he is doing community service at the library where he's shelving books, straightening chairs, and helping people log on to computers. It is also where he meets a green eyed girl named Mallory.

Mallory's mother has changed. She used to be independent and confident, but after she met Charlie, she seemed to lose herself. Mallory is trying to convince her mother, pregnant with Charlie's child, to leave him and start over before the baby is born.

She was sure she had convinced her, but when the time came to leave, her mother refused. But, Mallory wasn't staying a day longer. Now she's homeless and hiding out in the library after closing time, hoping it will provide a warm place for the night. That's how she met Spencer.

When Spencer realizes Mallory has nowhere to go, he tries to step in with a solution. The more he interacts with her during his library shifts, the more he begins to like her. Her life is so different than his, he can't stop thinking about her even when they aren't together.

The discovery of a dead body in the library throws a kink in Mallory's plans to continue hiding out there. Spencer not only wants to help Mallory, but also help solve the mystery of the dead woman and the strange signs left behind in the library. Mystery and intrigue mount as Mallory tries to stay hidden from Charlie's threats and Spencer hides from responsibilities he isn't ready to face.

Natalie D. Richards is also the author of SIX MONTHS LATER, ONE WAS LOST, and WE ALL FALL DOWN. Suspense and mystery are her trademarks and WHAT YOU HIDE will not disappoint.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate


Jackson remembers first grade and the first appearance of his imaginary friend. It was a cat named Crenshaw. Now Jackson is in fifth grade, and Crenshaw has made another appearance. What kid in fifth grade has an imaginary friend? What if that imaginary friend is a larger than life cat who loves taking bubble baths and doing cartwheels?

Life keeps throwing Jackson and his family curveballs. Money is tight even though both his parents work multiple jobs. His mother was once a music teacher, but the program was cut at her school. Now she works wherever she can get a job. Jackson's dad used to have a decent paying job, but then he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He works when he can, but he is weak and often walks with a cane.

Memories of living in the family minivan for fourteen weeks are still fresh in Jackson's mind. Two adults, a little sister, and a smelly dog make living in a car a mostly unpleasant experience. That's when Jackson met Crenshaw for the first time.

Now Jackson's family is in danger of losing their apartment at Swanlake Village. It is entirely possible that they will have to resort to living in their van yet again. Maybe that's why Crenshaw has made a reappearance. Maybe he's just the kind of friend Jackson needs at the moment.

Author Katherine Applegate explores the world of the homeless in her novel CRENSHAW. One in five children in the U.S. are hungry, and many are victims of poverty because their parents are forced to work low wage jobs that can't provide the basic necessities - food, clothing, and shelter. CRENSHAW is a tale that will connect with readers of all ages as it reveals a secret life lived by far too many.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air Series #1)
I will honestly admit that fantasy is not my thing, but I can definitely see the appeal of Holly Black's THE CRUEL PRINCE. I enjoyed it enough that I will probably read book #2 THE WICKED KING.

Jude is a mortal living in the High Court of Faerie. She has lived there with her two sisters since her parents were murdered ten years earlier. Humans are hated by most of the Faerie folk so life there hasn't been easy.

Jude's guardian, also the faerie who murdered her parents, treats her well and encourages her desire to become a knight. He even helps her hone her sword skills. Jude's twin sister Taryn is mostly interested in finding someone to marry and thinks Jude's interest in physical activity is a waste of time.

Jude's fighting talents catch the eye of Prince Dain. He selects her to be one of his spies. Her work for him will provide her with the freedom to come and go and prevents her from coming under the spell of faeries who seek to torment her for being a disgusting human.

Clever thinking and problem solving help Jude discover that things may not be as they seem in Dain's court. At his coronation as king all hell breaks loose, and Jude learns about a plot that could threaten those she cares about most.

Author Holly Black is able to create a fantasy world that grabs readers immediately. There is nonstop action and intrigue with twists and turns that kept me guessing and wanting to read more. THE CRUEL PRINCE trilogy will thrill Black's fans and no doubt earn her some new ones.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

THE TESTING by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing (The Testing Trilogy Series #1)

THE TESTING is compared to HUNGER GAMES by many. It is a dystopian adventure in much the same style.

The planet is mostly a wasteland. Various colonies have survived and each performs a special function to ensure Earth's survival. Young people are selected for The Testing upon graduation from schooling in each of the colonies. These specially chosen individuals report to Tosu City to participate in a series of four tests. Whoever successfully passes the tests will begin studying at the University. It is the hope that these talented young people will play a major role in rebuilding the world.

Cia comes from the Five Lakes Colony. It has been years since any young members of this colony have been selected for The Testing. This year four have been chosen. Cia's father warns her of potential dangers and tells her to beware who she trusts. Heeding her father's warning, Cia begins her time in Tosu City cautiously.

It is soon obvious that intelligence, creative problem solving, and cleverness are necessary to pass the multiple tests each of the young people face. Cia must be brave and often trust only her own instincts as she struggles to earn a coveted place at the University. The tests are challenging and it is soon clear that failure can result in death. Cia's resolve is seriously tested when she witnesses the violent death of one of her friends.

THE TESTING is the first book in the trilogy by author Joelle Charbonneau. The series is definitely one that will interest HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT fans.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

GRAND THEFT HORSE by G. Neri, illustrated by Corban Wilkin

Grand Theft Horse
In GRAND THEFT HORSE G. Neri writes about his cousin Gail Ruffu and her battle in the courts of California to protect her beloved horse Urgent Envoy.

For as long as Gail could remember, she loved horses. Her dream of training horses to race came true, but once she was involved in the horse racing game, she learned about the often savage treatment of the beautiful animals who lived simply to run. Part owner of Urgent Envoy, she was given free reign to employ her non-violent, drugfree methods to train him. Unfortunately, the other owners wanted to see faster results and insisted that she force him to run even when he was injured. That's when Gail decided to take matters into her own hands.

On Christmas Day Gail "stole" her horse and took him to a hidden stable where she hoped he would have a chance to recover before he had to race again. What followed were years of legal battles and vile threats that led to Gail live out of her van in near poverty, yet she was still able to keep Urgent Envoy hidden and safe from the other owners.

G. Neri's fast-paced narrative and dialogue is brought to life by illustrator Corban Wilkin in this graphic novel that is sure to capture the hearts of horse lovers of any age. Gail Ruffu's heroic efforts to protect Urgent Envoy and champion the cause of humane treatment of racing horses is an inspiration to all.

TIME BOMB by Joelle Charbonneau

Time Bomb

Six high school students have a variety of reasons for being at the school before the official start of the school year. When the bombs start detonating, they are all in danger, but it is soon clear that one of them is responsible for the bombs and more could explode at any time.

Diana is the daughter of a U.S. Senator. Frankie is a popular football player. Tad is a freshman football player with a crush on Frankie. Cas admits she came to school that day with one thing on her mind - to die. Z is the tattooed bad guy with a crappy home life. Rashid is the stereotype of every Muslim seen as a potential terrorist.

As the building begins crumbling around them, they end up helping each other find safe places to wait for the first responders to rescue them. Unfortunately, it is clear as they look out the windows to the grounds around the school, there is no help coming. A brief radio announcement lets them know the bomber is still in the school and the danger of more blasts are keeping their rescuers from entering the school.

Told in alternating voices TIME BOMB by Joelle Charbonneau will keep readers guessing who is responsible. Each character has reason to be a suspect. Who can they trust to make the right decisions? Can they find a way to get out of the school to safety before another bomb goes off?

TIME BOMB is a different take on the school violence theme of many recent YA novels. Full of suspense and fast-paced action, this new release is sure to be a popular read for ages 13 and up.

Friday, January 11, 2019


The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Zoey spends her time taking care of her three siblings, observing her mother's often disturbing relationship with Lenny, and trying to stay under the radar at school. Money is tight and she's learned what it's like to manage when the food stamps aren't enough to keep the refrigerator stocked.

The target of taunts because of her clothes and her trailer park life make it difficult to develop friendships. Zoey has Fuchsia, but ever since an argument between their mothers, they only see each other at school. Fuchsia has her own problems and usually maintains a tough front with little time for Zoey's troubles.

Zoey is used to stern looks from her teachers because doing projects and handing in homework is the last thing on her mind as she juggles to care for two toddlers and a baby while her mother works nights. She's perfected the schedule of picking up two of her siblings at the Head Start bus stop while balancing the baby on her hip and planning how they will avoid Lenny once they get back to the trailer he's been kind enough to share with them. Nearly every day Zoey witnesses the emotional abuse Lenny heaps on her mother as he belittles her and blames her for anything that doesn't go right in his life.

When one of her teachers recognizes Zoey's hidden potential and encourages her to join the after-school debate club, Zoey's world starts looking up. Debate gives her a new view of how her words and perspective can influence others. For the first time Zoey is speaking up and making a difference.

Author Ann Braden takes readers into a world where privilege is unfamiliar and sacrifice is the norm. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS will open the eyes of readers whose lives are comfortable and provide a voice for those who struggle.

Friday, January 4, 2019

WORDS WE DON'T SAY by K. J. Reilly

Words We Don't Say
Wow! WORDS WE DON'T SAY has amazing characters, spot-on dialogue, and a powerful message. High school junior Joel Higgins is struggling with the recent loss of his best friend Andy. Life just doesn't seem worth living, but Joel keeps keeping on, looking for meaning somewhere.

Following Eli's example, I'm going to make a list of some of the awesome things in this book.

Joel's imperfect, but yet perfect, parents.
Joel's tender love for his younger brother, Jace.
Does God exist? Maybe...
Being two inches shorter than the girl you're crushing on.
Benj, the new kid who may have killed his parents.
The tough, yet kind-hearted Mrs. T at the soup kitchen.
"Stealing" eggs and asparagus.
The silent veteran dubbed Rooster by Joel and Eli.
Hilarious "what-if" conversations in the drivers' ed car.
The seniors pranking Mr. Stanley the drivers' ed instructor.
Banned books.
Endless text messages saved to the draft folder.

I could go on and on because debut author K. J. Reilly grabbed me on the first page and never let go. I didn't want to say goodbye to Joel and his gang. They will be with me for a long time. WORDS WE DON'T SAY is joining my limited list of best books ever!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate

Home of the Brave

Having recently read WISHTREE and being a lover of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, I picked up a copy of one of Katherine Applegate's older books. Published in 2007, HOME OF THE BRAVE is a perfect read for our current state of affairs. Kek is a refugee from Africa. He lost his father and older brother in the fighting there and has no idea if his mother has made it to safety.

Now in America, Kek doesn't understand the language, the food, or the culture. Thrust into the world of a Minnesota winter, Kek sees snow for the first time. He and his cousin Ganwar explore Kek's new surroundings. With the help of his ESL teacher, he begins to understand the language enough to deal with the bullies and make a few friends.

What Kek misses most about Africa is the herd of cattle he helped his father tended. When he is introduced to an old woman who lives on a small farm a bus ride from Kek's new home, he is thrilled to see she has one old cow and a few other stray farm animals. Scratching the cow he names Gol behind the ears gives not only the cow pleasure, but also Kek.

Author Katherine Applegate captures the spirit of the immigrant perfectly. HOME OF THE BRAVE is written in verse making it an easy read with characters that are sure to tug readers' heart strings.